Tips for skiing safely into 2011 in Steamboat |

Tips for skiing safely into 2011 in Steamboat

Ski area spokesman encourages taking precautions on slopes

Duncan Draper

— Holiday skiers and riders could awake this morning to 5 inches of cold fluff on the slopes of Mount Werner setting off a New Year's snow rush, but Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials are hoping their holiday guests will discard the old adage that "all's fair in love and powder."

Ski area managers are offering unusually early 8 a.m. access to the gondola and the gladed powder skiing off the Sundown Express, Sunshine Express and South Peak chairlifts today. In exchange, they're hoping skiers and snowboarders will adhere to the responsibility code that demands they always stay in control and yield the right of way to those below them on the trail. They also hope they'll buddy up in the pursuit of untracked turns.

"The old saying that there are no friends on a powder day couldn't be further from the truth; there's plenty of room for a friend," ski area spokesman Mike Lane said. "When you're skiing in gladed areas, always be aware of tree wells, deep snow and ski with buddy."

The large evergreen trees on Steamboat's upper slopes appear benign, but skiers who topple into the tree wells beneath them are in danger of suffocating. Steamboat lost two people in 2008 and a third in January 2010 in non-avalanche related snow immersion deaths.

More snow on the way

The ski area reported that 6 inches of new snow had fallen at midmountain as of 6 p.m. Wed­­nesday. The area remains under a winter storm warning through 5 p.m. Friday, and the National Weather Service was forecasting a 90 percent chance of snow with 3 to 5 inches of accumulation Wednesday night and more today and overnight.

Steamboat Ski Area is offering some safety and medical precautions that likely not all skiers are aware of.

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Steamboat has 14 automated external defibrillators to aid cardiac patients at key locations across the ski area. They've already saved several lives on the slopes, ski area officials said. AEDs are located in three places in the Thunderhead building atop the gondola and at Rendezvous Saddle, as well as in the Four Points Hut atop the Four Points chairlift. There also is an AED in the information center at the base.

AEDs can guide the user to administer a shock to restart the heart of a patient in cardiac arrest, potentially saving his or her life.

In addition to ski patrollers with emergency medical training, Steamboat coordinates a network of local physicians, paramedics and ambulance personnel who exchange their availability on the slopes for skiing privileges.

Call for help

Cell phone users on chairlifts are a common sight at the ski area this week as families on holiday coordinate lunch plans from Flying Z to Rendezvous Saddle. It's anyone's guess how many of the thousands of vacationing skiers had Steamboat Ski Patrol's number programmed into their phones.

Injuries on the slopes are inevitable this week, and one of the quickest ways for skiers and snowboarders to summon help is to have the number for Ski Patrol dispatch — 970-871-5911 — stored in their phone.

"Using your phone is a big help, not just to keep track of your party but to contact Ski Patrol," Lane said. "If you're looking at an accident, give the location and type of injury and place your crossed skis or snowboards in the snow" above the victim. "Ski Patrol will be along pretty quick."

Lane said Steamboat had 40 professional ski patrollers on duty Wednesday to cover the 2,954 acres of terrain open to skiers.

"Yesterday was one of their busier days this year, and today was pretty steady," Lane said Wednesday. He declined to say how many calls for help the patrol responded to in that time.

Helmets just the beginning

Skiers and riders continue to suffer head injuries in spite of the growing prevalence of helmets at ski areas across the West.

Steamboat ski shops offer rental helmets for people who haven't had a chance to try them. Chuck O'Con­­nell, of the Gondola Squ­are Sport Stalker store, said Wed­­­nes­­day that his store has built its rental inventory of helmets in the past six years and they were in high demand this week. The daily rental for adults is $10.95; children's are $8.95.

The National Ski Areas As­­soc­­iation encourages the use of helmets, but it cautions skiers and riders against assuming that a helmet can prevent all head injuries on the slopes. Helmets are designed to reduce the severity of head injuries, but they are most effective at providing protection from a direct blow to the head at speeds slower than 14 miles per hour, according to the group.

The key to safety on the slopes, Lane said, is to ski at a safe speed and look out for others enjoying today's soft snow conditions.

"A helmet's just one step," Lane said. "You've got to ski within your ability; you've got to look around and be aware of what's going on around you."

Responsibility code

The skiers and riders responsibility code

■ Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.

■ People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.

■ Do not stop where you obstruct a trail or are not visible from above.

■ Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.

■ Always use devices to prevent runaway equipment.

■ Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.

■ Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.

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